Hospitality workers finishing late at night in Byron Bay are having to undertake an unsafe walk through the CBD and into the unlit Butler Street Reserve carpark owing to Byron Shire Council’s new parking restrictions, their employers and managers say.
But Council says the new restrictions are necessary to improve parking turnover in the town centre, and that it has begun the process of installing lighting in the Butler Street carpark.
The issue began on March 29, when Council introduced four-hour parking restrictions in the Lawson Street North car park, located behind the swimming pool.
Previously, parking had been unlimited there, and it had been a favoured spot because employees could park there for a whole shift and then have a short, well-lit walk back to their cars.
The changes mean late-finishing hospitality staff can no longer park there.
Instead, under Council’s new strategy to improve parking in the CBD, they have been funnelled into the free, long-stay carpark in Butler Street Reserve, which is located on the other side of town and has virtually no lighting or CCTV camera coverage.
The owners and managers of several local pubs and restaurants, including Byron Bay Fresh Cafe, The Beach Hotel, Fishheads and Asia Joe’s, say their staff, particularly younger women, do not feel safe walking to or from the unlit carpark through the CBD late at night.
Markus Hofer, the owner of the Fresh Cafe, said that when some of his staff had complained to Council about the changes, they were told to park in Butler Street Reserve.
‘I’m worried that one of my staff, or a staff member from one of the other places around here, is going to get dragged into the bushes,’ Mr Hofer said.
‘It’s just not safe.
‘We don’t live in sleepy Byron anymore. Late at night it turns into nasty Byron.’
The manager of The Beach Hotel, Wayne van Haandel, said that many of his staff refused to use the Butler Street Reserve carpark for ‘obvious safety reasons’.
‘Most of our staff will park up near Clarkes Beach and the YAC if they start before 6pm, or they will park at the other end of town near the police station where it is more lit up,’ he said.
‘Although those areas are more lit up, our female staff generally will not walk to their cars alone at night and often ask other staff for a lift.
‘They did all feel much safer in Lawson Street carpark as it was a shorter distance from work, was well lit up and they could walk together in groups.’
A number of the local businesses interviewed said they had not been consulted about the new parking rules before they were introduced.
They called on Council to reintroduce unlimited parking at the Lawson Street carpark, and to consider longer-term solutions such as a system of special parking permits for hospitality workers.
But Council staff say they undertook extensive consultation prior to introducing the changes, which were designed to minimise the number of cars moving around the town centre in search of a spot by encouraging longer-term visitors to stick to the fringes.
Council said that the proposed changes had been placed on public exhibition, advertised in The Echo and Byron Shire News, and an online survey had been set up to gauge opinion.
‘The Byron Bay Chamber of Commerce was contacted via email and asked to promote the changes to members, and encourage them to do the online survey,’ Council said in a statement.
‘Unfortunately only a small number of responses were received.’
There had also been Facebook posts, flyers and letters